• http://www.byrnehobart.com/blog/ byrneseyeview

    Adam: let’s say I accept most of your premises: that “best practices” are old stuff that’s been done before, that they’re what all the other SEOs know how to do, that they’re static, and that they’re average.

    If that’s the case, best practices may be the best choice for the vast majority of clients! Many clients don’t need to rank #1 for that million-searches-a-month keyword. Many of them just need to rank #1 for their brand name, rank competitively for their product names, and pull in some extra traffic through long-tail search queries they’ve optimized themselves to capture.

    You probably won’t be able to charge premium prices for that kind of work, but a well-executed best practices campaign can do a lot more good than a revolutionary new strategy (that happens not to work).

    I didn’t get into this business to do what everybody else had done before. But I think it’s good to recognize that standing on the shoulders of giants is, in most cases, safer and saner than trying to be a giant yourself.

  • http://www.highrankings.com/newsletter/ Jill Whalen

    Nice article, Adam!

    While I agree with the sentiment, I can’t agree with saying that there is no place for SEO best practices. Every site, imo, can benefit from first having fundamental best SEO practices applied to it.

    Only then, should you be looking for that extra edge. While you can do it in reverse, or not even have any SEO best practices in place, you’ll have a much harder time of it.

    My fear with an article such as this, and saying that there’s no need for SEO best practices is that we’ll lose all ground we’ve made through the years when it comes to have a crawler friendly site architecture, actual information contained within your pages, etc.

  • http://searchengineland.com Jonathan Hochman

    I think there are different elements to SEO, some of which definitely have best practices. For instance, if the site has tons of broken links, unspiderable menus, or duplicate urls leading to the same pages, those are obvious problems to fix. Failure to do so would be a mistake, plain and simple.

    SEO also involves promotion and targeting. Those areas involve a higher degree of art, judgment and experience, and may not be amenable to a formulaic approach. I’m not sure there is a best practice for promotion because each business is unique; what works for one, may not work at all for another.

    SEL: Why are you making me fill out a captch to comment *after* I’ve logged in. Duh. Talk about ignoring best practices usability…

  • http://www.seopros.org Webmaster T

    Adam, though I agree that SEO best practices are too restraining and innovation is held back by “best practices”. You also in the article intimate that this applys to social media which IMO, is like providing no materials for customer service reps. It’s easy for an in-house SEO to preach this it’s another thing to suggest that there should be no best practices at all. IMO, you seem to see the industry as only as big as your own desk.

  • http://www.webimize.com/ mdmcginn

    How about some more rant bait? The best practice of SEO puts your client’s results exactly where they belong in the rankings – no higher and no lower. It means that, after clicking through and studying your site, searchers won’t wonder, “Why in the world did this result show up there?” The best SEO practitioner does not have an adversarial relationship with Google. Of course, most clients won’t pay for that kind of SEO, but I got tired of getting paid for undermining the integrity of search results. True, if you’re representing a leading company in a highly competitive market, you may be simply trying to get the rankings you deserve. But otherwise Adam’s post implies black hat tactics, similar to a taxi driver who promises better results by transcending best practices such as speed limits, medians, lanes, and exit ramps.

  • http://www.receptional.com Receptional

    My two pence worth…

    If you don’t at least aspire to some sort of best practice in industrial strength SEO, then you find developers creating images out of text, .net applications with view-states and 302 all over them and generally a hideous debacle that could – in industrial terms – cost millions to fix. If you don’t attempt to point developers down some kind of standards, you don’t have a chance when the company tell you “there… we’ve published the new site… now can you optimize it?” Aargh!… again.

    You need guidelines, because in a large environment, you aren’t the content writer – and the content writer needs direction. You aren’t the web host and the host needs direction. You aren’t the PR company and the PR agency needs direction… and you CERTAINLY aren’t the web developer and web developers needs a metaphorical gun pointing at their heads…. so if you want the right to bear arms, you’ll need some rules of engagement that can fit into the wider project.

  • http://www.receptional.com Receptional

    (I do apologize for my grammar above.)

  • http://ww.wysiwtf.com HunterHeitzman

    A few other things to consider in the benefit of “best practices” – I do agree with how you phrased them as practically “the price of admission” but they should still be the foundation that supports the additional work.

    1. If “best practices” are ignored, then your work is then open to criticism by outside agencies or some other “armchair SEO” that may get a decision-maker’s ear. If you don’t make sure that all the basics are covered, your job becomes more difficult

    2. It’s hard to ignore “best practices” as a rule-set when doing SEO as the core function for ranking is to work a system with predefined rules (search engine algorithms). Yes, those rules change frequently and mysteriously so the “best practices” will need to change, but to ignore them can be dangerous. Not every organization can really benefit from “the fail forward” principle as easily as others. Not to discourage other exploration, but it’s a hard conversation to tell the higher ups that you lost them 20% of their search traffic for 3 weeks because you wanted to try some “new tricks”.

  • http://www.onerockatatime.com simmonet

    Adam… I see that link bait is still not considered ‘bunk’ :-)

    Best Practices are the building blocks of success, a solid foundation on which to build the SEO fortress that warrants the consulting fees, expenses and time involved in achieving relevant and valuable results from user searches.

    Best Practices often give us a ‘foot in the door’ by demonstrating past successes and current opportunities ‘low hanging fruit’ that experience and research has shown to bring a taste of the possibilities.

    Often, only by understanding Best Practices and seeing initial results can clients ‘get it’ and agree to more ‘radical’ efforts. (We call this “Credibility” !)

    Best Practices are more often than not *ALL* we can leave a client with to execute internally, the more “dynamic” strategy & tactics requiring a skillset they may not have, and a focus and understanding only a dedicated external resource can provide.

    At the end of the day, it’s all about achieving the client’s desired results, if Best Practices is all they need to exceed their business expectations we’d be foolish to offer less substantiated and ‘proven’ strategy in lieu of tactics that may require more effort and harder to quantify (and justify) results.

  • chrispantages

    I completely agree. The only caveat is that the ‘best practice’ foundation must be laid before any innovative strategies are employed. Best practices can render dramatic results. Sometimes that’s all the client wants and all they are willing to pay for.

    But best practices are just a jumping off point.The true ingenuity and value of a professional SEO analyst starts where best practices end. Tailored solutions for content creation, link building, exploiting social media and other promotional channels – all with an eye toward incorporating best practices at every step are services most SEO’s should be performing for their clients.

    In a lot of ways, professional SEO’s are similar to attorneys. Anybody can get a Nolo Press book and figure out how to sue their landlord. Attorneys incorporate all the basics you’d learn from a book, but also find and incorporate creative claims/defenses and artfully argue them to maximize recovery or minimize loss. But just as with SEO, you can’t go in only with high-level strategies, there must be a foundation.

  • http://www.raisemyrank.com/ Bob Gladstein

    Maybe the problem is just the phrase. What we call “best practices” is a set of tasks intended to make a site useful, informative, and easily found. In almost all cases, it’s the necessary foundation for any project.

    In some cases, it really is all you need, and thinking outside the box is a waste of the client’s money. After all, the local podiatrist needs to be easily found by people who need a doctor to look at their feet, and it helps if those people can see that the doctor is good at his or her job.

    It’s a matter of what you need the site to do. When you bring a car in for a tune-up and an oil change, you expect the mechanic to bring things up to a certain standard. You don’t expect them to rebuild the engine. No matter how skilled the mechanic may be, and no matter how much potential they see that your car might have, they’d be wrong to do work you don’t need. So best practices may in part be a matter of knowing how much work is necessary.

    Sometimes it seems like half of the debates in SEO are about terminology (such as “SEO”). Maybe this is one of those cases. If you like, we can call what we’ve been calling “best practices” something like “foundational SEO,” or “best foundational practices.” Whatever we call it, it’s something we absolutely need to understand and need to make our clients understand, even in those cases where we need to get creative and do far more.

  • http://www.onlinematters.com Arthur Coleman

    Adam –

    If I understand your intent correctly, then we are in 100% agreement. You have to do the basics – they are the “ante to get in the game. But there are 3 levels of work in any area:

    1. Basic Techniques – the “ante”
    2. Differentiating Techniques – those that make a difference but which some portion of competitors can or may be copying
    3. Unique Techniques – those which only you know and allow you to win consistently

    Today, and increasingly, Basic SEO is ante. It’s not enough anymore to generate a keyword ranking list only based on volume and KEI – you need to really understand the competitve environment around a set of words. This requires something you cannot do manually (especially for the enterprise). It is too labor intensive – but which no tool set really lets you do today. So you need your own, potentially proprietary, tools – that’s an example where you need not only differenting skills/approaches but unique ones.

    I’ll be interested to see where you take this in the next few articles.

  • http://www.mikemoran.com MikeMoran

    Good article, Adam. I appreciate you linking to my Do It Wrong Quickly concept as an example of what we should all be doing. To me, trying things, seeing whether they work, and then doing more of it (or trying something else) is the essence of what we need to be doing. When we do, we’ll find the best practices for each of us–and we’ll also discover when those best practices might need to become better (or abandoned completely) as the situation changes.

    To me “best practices” are something that helps us to make the first stab at what might work in a situation. It’s the feedback loop that tells us if we are on the right track or not. Many times, those “best practices” are spot on, which is why they are so popular. But you’re right to say that we can’t stop there–we need to experiment with other ideas to really do the best job.

  • Andrew Goodman

    Wow! A surprising number of comments must mean a great inaugural article opening up some good areas for debate.

    In an overall sense of sentiment, it sounds like you’re wired (like many of us) to abhor sheepwalking.

    At the same time, I tend to agree with most of the others that when it comes to delivering what has come to be known as SEO in the enterprise setting, you’re conveying standards and practices across what might already be a precarious chasm of potential non-communication.

    Best practices are a lot better than no practices in these settings.

    Tony Hsieh is not the kind of guy who is going to apply his wisdom company to company or as a mid level worker in someone else’s company (as much as it is our imperative to lead – as another Seth-exhortation would have it in the Tribes book).

    You want to blow it up, you start your own company or work with an unusually creative team and go do category-changing stuff.

    You want to build a service around advice and leadership across the chasm, in a B2B relationship or mid level in house position… so that they move more into line with competency, no one is paying you enough to be Tony Hsieh in such settings. And there is also risk that the client/boss may not want to take, and strategic direction that is frankly not yours to set.

    Like you I want people to understand what those strategic directions *might* look like – because at the end of the day “best practices” are boring. But at the end of the day no one hiring us is going to be too happy if we freelance past the boundaries of our contractual relationships, or make up our own job descriptions as we go along.

  • http://www.audettemedia.com Adam Audette

    Great comments by some great SEOs. I even got called a black hat! That’s awesome!

    So if we must have best practices…. can we agree that they’re essential but offer zero competitive advantage? And in an arena as competitive as SEO (in the enterprise, not at Joe’s Machine Shop or Dr Rick’s podiatry clinic), doesn’t that pose a significant problem?

    Thanks for the really good debate folks.

  • Stupidscript

    Sorry, Adam … “grey hat”, ay best. ;)

    I agree with you, like this:

    1) “Best practices” does refer to a specific set of rules and methods

    2) SEO does have fundamental “practices” that must be executed in order to do SEO

    3) There is a small set of “basic” SEO “practices” that are required

    4) Since “best practices” typically refers to THE “best practices”, and NOT to the fundamental basics of any system, “best practices” cannot be applied to SEO, as it can to building a database, designing a house or putting a financial management team together.

    While every industry/activity has a basic set of practices that must be executed simply to claim entrance into the field, using the term “best practices” should be reserved for those industries/activities for which one, single, overriding set of rules and methods can be determined to be the “best”.

    While any architect can design a house, the level of detail and the extent to which the “best practices” for the field of architecture are followed determine the marketability, safety, buildability and appeal of the design. Any SEO can optimize a basic page by following the basic “practices” of the industry, but unlike in the field of architecture, beyond that foundation there is no “best” way to optimize a web page, therefore there can be no “best practices” in SEO, by definition.

    My 2 cents.

  • http://tmob tmob

    Ah semantics… well we could call it The Best Currently Know Practices for Foundational Site-side SEO Which Could Change at Any Time Because That’s What SEO Does, but that does get a bit wordy.

  • http://www.highrankings.com/newsletter/ Jill Whalen

    So if we must have best practices…. can we agree that they’re essential but offer zero competitive advantage?

    No, because there are still so many sites that aren’t even doing the bare minimum or doing it incorrectly that using the fundamental building blocks of best practice SEO is a competitive advantage.

    When site out there has implemented best practices, then we’ll talk ;)

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    As the editor of a Link Building Best Practices blog, oddly, I agree with Adam. What I deem to be a best practice may be totally useless to an online casino. And what good is a best practice if it doesn ‘t help right? That said, the reason I decided to start a best practices Q/A was to delve into this very issue. Even hit-men have a set of best practices, but that doesn’t make what they do any better. Our industry is still so new that many well meaning content creators are making mistakes with regards to their SEO vendor selection, tactic selection, etc., and are paying dearly for those mistakes. Some of those vendors will swear they are following “best practices”, and truly believe that they are, but in fact, to me, by my compass, they are not. I believe in best practices, but they must be written in pencil. Lastly, many very famous (and not) content brands are hungry for tactics they can trust will not result in negative outcomes. Their content IS their competitive advantage. I spent two hours by phone last week with a client who wanted only to have me review their existing link building plan to be sure their tactics would not “cause a penalty”. Sad but true. People are nervous. Best Practices, when they actually are such, can help.

  • AlanCh

    Adam – first post following the journalistic approach of lighting the blue touch paper and retiring ;-)

    I suspect I am not the only person who finds themselves agreeing with [nearly] everything you and the subsequent commenters have to say.

    My only comment is with regard to ‘competitive advantage’ – which some have already alluded to but not been specific.

    For mainstream online players and those in competitive markets [eg insurance], Adam is right – but they must still have the basics right as a foundation.

    However, I deal mainly with small businesses who trade in relatively small markets in limited geographic regions. Most of these are – and continue to be – late to the whole Internet malarkey. Their websites have poor SEO [designed by IT folk or the owner’s daughter’s boyfriend’s cousin’s mate who studied web design at school – my pet peeve, don’t get me started] and so just implementing ‘best practice’ puts them in at the top of the SERPs for the keywords relevant to their business.

    Adam – you appreciate your problem after this first posting is: follow that !

  • pbruemmer

    leave it to a rookie to stir-up the pot. As a writer/columnist, BRAVO! This is exactly what you want to do…open up a conversation and cause controversy. As an SEO Practitioner/Evangelist, BOOO! I don’t care what your spin is, Best Practices are an indicator to the public at large and practitioners everywhere that the field of SEO has established professional guidelines and career path. Lastly, one cannot deny the fact there are useful Best Practices at many levels both basic and advanced.

    Way to go Adam, nice way to make a splash introduction (seriously). Continue to write controversial well written articles like this and your career will skyrocket. Keep it real.

    All the best to you!


  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    Adam is hardly a “rookie”. He’s been working online for longer than most SEL readers. I bet he SEO’d his first site before he’d graduated from high school. He’s got serious cred to those of us who have been around. This was simply his first post here.


  • http://www.audettemedia.com Adam Audette

    Thanks Eric! Really appreciate it.

    I need to update my bio pic, I look about 17 in it. I’m actually turning 38 here in a few weeks. Getting over the hill!